Water distribution system and diarrheal disease transmission: A case study in Uzbekistan

Jan C. Semenza, L. Roberts, A. Henderson, J. Bogan, C. H. Rubin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Deteriorating water treatment facilities and distribution systems pose a significant public health threat, particularly in republics of the former Soviet Union. Interventions to decrease the disease burden associated with these water systems range from upgrading distribution networks to installing reverse osmosis technology. To provide insight into this decision process, we conducted a randomized intervention study to provide epidemiologic data for water policy decisions in Nukus, Uzbekistan, where drinking water quality is suboptimal. We interviewed residents of 240 households, 120 with and 120 without access to municipal piped water. Residents of 62 households without piped water were trained to chlorinate their drinking water at home in a narrow-necked water contaIner with a spout. All study subjects (1583 individuals) were monitored biweekly for self-reported diarrheal illness over a period of 9.5 weeks. The home chlorination intervention group had the lowest diarrheal rate (28.8/1,000 subjects/month) despite lack of access to piped water in their homes. Compared with the two groups that did not receive the intervention this rate was one-sixth that of the group with no piped water (179.2/1,000 subjects/month) and one-third that of the households with piped water (75.5/1,000 subjects/month). More than 30% of the households with piped water lacked detectable levels of chlorine residues in their drinking water, despite two-stage chlorination of the source water, and were at increased risk of diarrhea. Forty-two percent of these municipal users reported that water pressure had been intermittent within the previous two days. The dramatic reduction in diarrheal rates in the home-chlorination intervention group indicates that a large proportion of diarrheal diseases in Nukus are water-borne. The home-chlorination group had less diarrhea than the group with piped water, implicating the distribution system as a source of disease transmission. Taken together, these epidemiologic data would support the hypothesis that diarrhea in the piped water group could be attributed to cross-contamination between the municipal water supply and sewer, due to leaky pipes and lack of water pressure. Relatively inexpensive steps, including chlorination, maintaining water pressure, and properly maintaining the distribution system, rather than reverse osmosis technology, should reduce diarrheal rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)941-946
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases

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